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Defying Retail Trends Loving Books and Homeless Pa

Columnist: Bill Meagher
March, 2017 Issue

Bill Meagher
All articles by columnist

Retail in this county tends to be upscale, as witnessed by the absence of national chains such as Kmart and Walmart.

Coming out of the holidays, the headlines carried news that national retailers were closing stores, but Marin didn’t see the changes.

While Macy’s shuttered locations from coast to coast, the three stores in Corte Madera, San Rafael and Novato remain open. Sears, which can’t seem to find its footing under the ownership of hedge funder Edward Lambert, is closing stores as well. But the lone Marin outpost in San Rafael is still selling lawn mowers and tires.

An argument can certainly be made that Marin is resistant to some retail trends from a chain perspective, given the concentration of discretionary cash floating around. Retail in this county tends to be upscale, as witnessed by the absence of national chains such as Kmart and Walmart.

Which is not to say Marinites won’t buy on the cheap. Hello, Costco?

A national trend that has slipped beneath the local radar is the expansion of corporate buyouts in the form of VCA, formerly known as Veterinary Centers of America. The company has quietly purchased the Corte Madera Pet Hospital as well as Tender Care Animal Hospital in San Rafael.

The vet business is going through a pretty big transition as the country finally cops to the idea that has been the rule locally for a while, pets are family. When it comes to our furry pals, we’re willing to spend some dollars seeing to it that they’re happy and healthy.

As a client at Tender Care, I can say so far the level of care and expertise has not diminished under the new ownership, something that can’t be said every time a large corporate business begins snapping up local operations.

Reading between the Lines

Book Passage, the beloved independent bookstore that survived the price slashing onslaught of Borders and Amazon, has opened a new store in Sausalito. It’s the third location for the Corte Madera-based business, joining the Ferry Building location.

The new store, located at 100 Bay Street, is a testament to Book Passage’s staying power and Marin’s love of reading. While other communities have suffered losses as local bookstores have been forced to fold under pressure from lower-cost competitor’s such as Costco and Amazon, local stores such as Book Passage, Copperfield’s and The Depot in Mill Valley have tapped into their communities to sell their wares and become gathering places.

It will be interesting to see how Book Passage deals with one of the traditional hurdles of doing business in Sausalito, the schizophrenic nature of the city on the bay. Because of its location on the water across from San Francisco, the city has always drawn visitors and merchants have gladly cashed in on those customers. But the flipside is that residents resent the outsized presence of the tourists and sometimes choose to shop in other places. Book Passage will need to bond with locals, but their experience with the Ferry Building location will no doubt help, as that store sees plenty of visitors as well as locals from the financial district.       

Your Marin Moment

Marin can be a place of intelligence and love and understanding. But every once in a while, it can also be a place that leaves you shaking your head.

The Dominican Sisters have applied to the city of San Rafael for a permit to convert a portion of the Our Lady of Lourdes Convent on the Dominican University to a housing unit. It seems the sisters would like to provide housing for two women and their children for two years to help them locate permanent housing.

The permit would automatically expire in two years, the sisters would work with the non-profit organization Homeward Bound on the project as the women are their clients, and the women would pay rent for the housing.

Still, some neighbors are concerned the two families would cause issues for the neighborhood. There are parking concerns, the fact that the families are going from being homeless to not, and just plain suspicion of what’s really going on, according to letters received by the city planning department.

A letter from resident Tony Franco said, “Until the city can manage the vast increase in homeless coming to our community for free handouts, I do not want to see more reasons for them to come into our communities.”

Dominican neighbor Ryan Hutfless wrote this in a letter: “I find it sneaky and suspicious that so very few Dominican neighbors were notified of these plans.”

Hats off to Franco and Hutfless. Clearly the sisters and the city are teaming up to gradually transition the university from an institution of higher learning to a homeless encampment and these two simply see through the elaborate ruse hatched by the sisters.

In the end, the city was not convinced by the voices of opposition and decided to allow the nuns to help the two families.

Imagine that.

A San Rafael resident, Bill Meagher is a contributing editor at NorthBay biz. He’s also an associate editor in the west coast office of the Wall Street-based digital business news outlets The Deal and TheStreet



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